After a satisfying cupcake snack, the Huskers head on the road to take on a Miami squad that wants to avenge last year's loss to Nebraska. Both teams are without the star running backs that headlined the 2014 contest and both look to feature their talented quarterbacks more. Both teams are looking for more from the five big guys up front that protect those quarterbacks. Each team also has been a bit shaky on the defensive side of the ball.
With that in mind, here are my questions for the Husker-Hurricane tilt.
Will the Husker pass defense hold up against the talented Miami QB, and will the front seven help them out?
The Husker secondary has already faced a pretty stiff test against BYU - with mixed results. They were also the source of much wailing and gnashing of teeth when they gave up some big plays to South Alabama. Husker Nation will be watching to see if this group can showcase some pass breakups in addition to the improved tackling form.
Additionally, we may finally see our three best linebackers on the field at the same time. In addition to being a comforting thought in run defense, this may also give defensive coordinator Mark Banker some additional options for blitzes or pass rushes. I think the Huskers are going to need to make Kaaya uncomfortable in order to help protect the still-developing secondary. As I am typing, I see a note that Vincent Valentine is questionable with an ankle injury. If he does not play, it will definitely hurt the Huskers' depth and ability to rotate in weather that is expected to be hot and humid, and possibly stormy.
Is the run game ready to carry the offense?
The Huskers have been pretty close to a 50/50 run/pass team the first two games of the year. Against BYU's stout run defense, the wideouts and Tommy made some hay. Against South Alabama there seemed to be a pretty concerted effort to get the O-line and run game some good work - leading to Terrell Newby gaining 198 yards and being named the Big Ten co-player of the week.
I suspect that game plan was partially looking ahead to the ‘Canes. Miami is pretty confident in their secondary - even calling them "the best set of DB's he [Tommy] might face all season long" (I'm sure Michigan State totally agrees with that assessment). The fact remains that Miami currently ranks 6th nationally in team pass efficiency defense even if that ranking was achieved against opponents much weaker than Nebraska. We might need to run the ball well to open up the passing game. With the expected heat, we may also see a bit more rotation of the backs, but probably not to the extent we saw vs BYU.
Will Sam Foltz be the X-factor?
I have to admit that when I saw Foltz laying on the turf after he was hit during the BYU game and Drew Brown's subsequent reaction, I was pretty sure his injury was much worse than a sprained ankle. I certainly did not think we would have him back so soon.
That said, I am happy to have him and his knack for pinning opponents deep back in the lineup. Forcing Miami to start behind the 20 hopefully will put the onus on them to execute and play turnover-free football to score points. If Nebraska can win the turnover battle, field position could be one of the reasons why. Even if the turnover battle is even, making sure their offense has to cover more ground than ours could be the difference in a game that is expected to be close and hard-fought.
What are your thoughts? Did I miss something? Did you have different questions? Tell me in the comments!